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(1999) (Claire Danes, Giovanni Ribisi) (R)

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Drama: After their commanding officer is murdered, a trio of adolescent criminals, assigned to be undercover cops, find themselves trying to solve a drug-related case without any support from their adult colleagues.
Julie Barnes (CLAIRE DANES) is a runaway and recovering drug addict who's been arrested for assault. Lincoln "Linc" Hayes (OMAR EPPS) is an angry, but stoic young man from the projects who's been arrested for arson. Pete Cochrane (GIOVANNI RIBISI) is a somewhat dumbfounded young man whose recent stint of robberies has landed him in jail.

Seemingly destined for a life of crime and some time in jail, the three have been spared from serving more time by Captain Adam Greer (DENNIS FARINA), a tough cop who's come to the realization that his middle-aged officers, including Det. Mothershedd (RICHARD JENKINS), can't fit in with the underbelly of criminal life they're trying to bust.

Thus, Greer has gone out on a limb and given the troubled adolescents a choice. They can serve time in jail or be assigned as undercover cops -- with limited authority and no guns -- to infiltrate the seedy, drug-infested L.A. streets and nightlife.

They've obviously chosen the latter and take to their new assignment of investigating a possible drug & prostitution ring working out of a local bar. While Julie runs into an old flame, Billy Waites (JOSH BROLIN), a fellow recovering addict whose association with a rock manager known only as Howard (MICHAEL LERNER) gives the trio some leads, they must also contend with suddenly finding themselves without any support as they try to bust a case that now seems to involve dirty cops.

The young cast may draw some, but it's doubtful many under eighteen even know of the original TV show and/or have any vested interest in seeing this big screen remake.
For language, violence and some sexuality.
  • CLAIRE DANES plays a young woman who's been arrested for assault, is a recovering drug addict, has a bad, edgy attitude and cusses.
  • OMAR EPPS plays another young criminal who's been arrested for arson, cusses some and also has a defiant, bad attitude toward others.
  • GIOVANNI RIBISI plays the third adolescent criminal (robbery), something of a fool character who acts before he thinks and has a bad attitude.
  • DENNIS FARINA plays their "tough love" commanding officer who's gone out on a limb by taking those three out of jail and assigning them as undercover cops.
  • JOSH BROLIN plays Julie's former boyfriend who turns out to be a pimp and drug dealer.


    OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
    It used to be that the official dress code at a Hollywood power lunch -- where movie ideas are bandied about like items on the menu -- was an Armani suit, a Ferragamo tie, some Bally shoes, and a Rolex watch. Not anymore. All of that slick glamour has been replaced by heavy duty boots, overalls and a hard hat with one of those large flashlights mounted on it. And at the end of the day when those Hollywood types return home after a hard day's work, they're welcomed by the strains of their children singing "I'm proud to be an oldie miner's daughter."

    No, that's not Loretta Lynn or even Sissy Spacek's song. It's the anthem sung by kids of Studio miners who are once again busy digging through entertainment's past looking, hoping and praying that they'll find that diamond in the rough. With so much historical excavation occurring, you'd think the officials of Los Angeles would be worried that all the ruthless digging might trigger another earthquake.

    While such mining expeditions occasionally hit gold (the aggressively silly and sarcastic remake of "The Brady Bunch") or mange to dig up some old but sturdy gems and polish them to such a shine that the audience can't resist them ("Mission Impossible"), more often than not the results are nothing but crud ("My Favorite Martian") or foul-smelling sludge ("McHale's Navy").

    Although it falls somewhere between those two, the recent unearthing and dusting off of the thirty-year-old "The Mod Squad," is yet another example of something that would have best been left alone. Originally airing on ABC, the one-time Emmy nominated show ran from 1968 to 1973, and starred Peggy Lipton, Clarence Williams III and Michael Cole as the bad kids turned cops. Known more for fashionable apparel and cool attitudes -- thus the title -- than any of its episode's plots, this series seems an odd choice as an archaeological dig into Hollywood's past.

    First, most of the film's target audience -- those under the age of twenty-five or so -- weren't born when the show went off the air and probably don't even remember much of it from its syndicated reruns, thus giving the film considerably less than needed name recognition.

    When you remake "Star Trek" or "Leave it to Beaver," people know what they're getting (although that doesn't always ensure it will be good). When you remake "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," today's young audience will be scratching their heads in bewilderment.

    Second, although the TV series fit in perfectly with the rebellious atmosphere and expressive clothing choices of the late 60's and early 70's, its general concept was pretty stupid (bad kids getting to be cops -- yeah sure, like that's going to happen). Unfortunately, that problem was scooped up with the rest of the dig and, when coupled with a story that's as old and cliched as the fossils that float up in the nearby La Brea tar pits, clearly means this ain't gonna be no diamond.

    Despite the addition of more "adult" violence, profanity, sex and nudity, the film constantly feels like a lumpy retreading that bumps and bounces all over the place but never gets anywhere. Of course it doesn't help that due to the film's setup, we don't like the protagonists. While a handful of films can get away with that if they have enough panache, this one doesn't.

    Because of not liking these three characters, we don't care what happens to them or the tired and cliche-ridden case they're trying to solve. Ooh, some bad cops are dealing drugs. Gee, where have I seen that several thousand times before?

    Now, one can suppose that writer/director Scott Silver (whose only previous work was the barely released male prostitute drama, "Johns") and fellow co-writers Stephen Kay ("The Last Time I Committed Suicide") and Kate Lanier ("Set It Off") assume that teen audiences will automatically identify with the protagonists by default since they're also adolescents. While there may be some merit to that argument, that by itself doesn't mean they'll like the movie and they shouldn't.

    To their credit, the filmmakers do try to insert some humor, but none of it's great. Nonetheless, we're "treated" to a running gag about Pete slowly but surely destroying Linc's convertible and also get to see Ribisi's character barking like a dog at a dog mural on the wall (which makes us wonder if that's in his contract after similarly barking in "The Other Sister" -- and he did wear dog tags in "Saving Private Ryan" -- a trend or mere coincidence?).

    Then there's an odd moment where a criminal rock manager, played by Michael Lerner ("Godzilla") makes Linc -- the super cool, but aloof and often angry dude -- slow dance with him, although we never really learn why. Despite a brief jab at the teen heartthrob pop group Hanson that does work, it and the rest clearly can't make up for the weak script stemming from an initial bad idea.

    Considering the material, the performances are okay, but suffer from weak character development and the repeated fact that we don't like any of the characters. Claire Danes ("William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet") has always been a favorite of mine -- partly because she's just so darn cute and bubbly, but also because she's a decent actress -- and one has to give her credit for trying a grittier role than she's played before. The results are okay, but she shouldn't stick too long with characters like this.

    Omar Epps ("Scream 2," "Higher Learning") shows a great deal of potential and gets to play the best character (the one formally inhabited by Mr. Cool himself, Clarence Williams III) , but he likewise suffers from yet another case of underdevelopment. Meanwhile, Giovanni Ribisi ("Saving Private Ryan," "The Other Sister") does yet another take on his somewhat befuddled character (that he also did on TV's "Friends") and which is starting to get a bit old.

    While Josh Brolin ("Nightwatch") is rather flat as Julie's former love and current bad guy, the more talented Steve Harris (TV's "The Practice") and the always fun to watch Dennis Farina ("Out of Sight," "Get Shorty") either have minuscule parts or are removed too prematurely from the proceedings.

    The lackluster plot -- that does take time to have a character run across the tops of cars during a chase and spends lots of time showing the three pondering their futures in inter-cut montages -- doesn't even show much of an attempt to make its far-fetched concept believable.

    Nor does it answer why these bad kids aren't automatically thrown back into jail upon the sudden demise of their lone backer or that they don't immediately hit the streets and disappear. While we can see that the trio would eventually band together out of necessity, had we been more knowledgeable about them and why they went bad, then perhaps we would have cared more about them, their mission and the overall film.

    Of course, being "The Mod Squad," the film is more interested in being hip than any of that, and while it doesn't even quite succeed at living up to its descriptive name, it does feature a near nonstop soundtrack whose sales might just offset what should be a disappointing run at the box office. This disjointed and haphazard feeling film -- a classic case of unnecessary entertainment strip mining -- never should have been made and the memory of its predecessor should have remained undisturbed in its ancient Hollywood tomb. We give "The Mod Squad" a 2 out of 10.

    The following is a brief summary of the content found in this R-rated film. Profanity is extreme with more than 20 "f" words being uttered, along with a wide variety of other words and colorful phrases.

    Parts of several sexual encounters are seen, one that shows a bare-breasted woman on top of a clothed man, with the other showing a man graphically thrusting between a woman's legs as they stand against a wall, although no nudity is seen and it can't be ascertained about whether they're actually having sex or not. Other partially suggested encounters are also present.

    Violence is extreme due to several people being shot and killed (with some bloody results) along with some non-weapon related violence (ie. General fighting, a man punching a woman, etc...). The villains all have bad attitudes, but so do the protagonists, a trio of defiant troublemakers. Some smoking and drinking occurs, and while most of the plot deals with drugs and drug dealers, we don't see any use.

    Should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness for you or anyone else in your home, you may want to take a closer look at the listed content.

    Of special note for those concerned with repetitive, bright flashes of light, some of that briefly occurs in an early scene.

  • People drink at some sort of concert, and later at the bar the trio tries to infiltrate.
  • We hear that someone stole drugs from a locker in the police evidence room.
  • We see a failed drug transaction between a cop and an unknown woman.
  • We learn that Julie is a recovering drug addict, and then hear that Billy is the same (although this later turns out to be a lie).
  • The trio finds some cocaine (not seen) next to a recently murdered man and Linc tastes it with his finger to confirm what it is.
  • People have drinks at a party.
  • Julie overhears Howard tell Billy, "You sell drugs, don't use them."
  • Julie drinks liquor straight from the bottle, pours the rest into Billy's car and then ignites it, causing the car to catch on fire and then explode.
  • All of the bad guys are waiting for a shipment of drugs.
  • People have drinks in a bar.
  • A man who's been shot to death has some bloody bullet hole wounds in his clothing.
  • Blood splatters onto Pete's face when a man next to him is suddenly shot.
  • After punching a mirror, Julie's hand is a bit bloody.
  • We briefly see some blood on people who've been shot and a man who's been hit on the head with a suitcase has a tiny bit of a bloody lip.
  • Pete has some bloody scrapes on his face.
  • The trio of young delinquents all have bad attitudes as they have criminal backgrounds and are angry and/or defiant to others.
  • Older cops don't cut the trio any slack and one of them twice calls Linc, who's black, "boy."
  • Many other bad guys -- including some dirty cops -- also have bad attitudes (for criminal behavior and threatening/killing people).
  • Billy has both for "playing" Julie and acting like a good guy when he's really a pimp and drug dealer.
  • A bad guy wears a T-shirt that reads "Hit the dog" (but we don't know if that's literal, the name of a band, or stands for something else, etc...).
  • A guy who gives a lift to Linc says "Crime pays...well."
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers, but few of them are intentionally played to be that way.
  • Julie scrambles to hide while spying on Billy and Howard.
  • Linc, who's posing as Billy's friend while infiltrating Howard and his team, must contend with Billy suddenly showing up and thus putting Linc in danger.
  • Handguns/Shotguns/Machine guns: Carried and later used by the cops and the bad guys on each other and other people.
  • Handgun: Carried by Pete and drawn during his official police duties.
  • Phrases: "Screwing" (nonsexual), "Screw up," "Screwed up," "Punks," "Numb nut," "Shut up," "Freaks," "Little pusses," "Eat me," "Balls" (testicles), "Sucks," "Freaky," "Nuts" (crazy), "Pain in the ass," "Faggot" and "Schmuck."
  • The trio of adolescent cops all have defiant, bad attitudes.
  • Pete gives a cop "the finger."
  • Julie drinks liquor straight from the bottle, pours the rest into Billy's car and then ignites it, causing the car to catch on fire and then explode.
  • Pete and Julie jump from a moving car as a man shoots at them with a shotgun.
  • A door suddenly bursts open as some bad guys rush into an apartment.
  • A moderate amount of suspenseful and occasionally ominous music plays during the film.
  • At least 1 "s" word was heard in one song, but due to the large number of songs and often unintelligible lyrics, there could be more objectionable material.
  • At least 23 "f" words (2 used with "mother"), 30 "s" words, 5 slang terms for female genitals ("p*ssy"), 1 slang term for breasts ("t*ts"), 17 asses (6 used with "hole"), 9 hells, 2 damns, and 8 uses of "God," 6 of "Oh my God," 3 each of "G-damn" and "Oh God," and 1 use each of "For God's sakes," "Swear to God," "My God," "Oh Jesus" and "Jesus."
  • We hear that there's a "black book" operation (high-priced hookers) going on in a club.
  • Julie's boss at the bar suggestively asks if she wants to come up to his office after work (she doesn't).
  • We see Pete thrusting his pelvis between a girl's spread legs as they stand against the wall in a bar. Some sexual sounds are made, but there's no nudity and no indication either way about whether they're actually having sex.
  • Later, Julie asks Pete how he could be watching anything with his head buried between the above woman's "t*ts."
  • After Greer tells Linc that he was "doing something" the night before, Linc says, "I'd like to know who you were doing."
  • Julie makes out with Billy in a bathroom stall.
  • We see Julie (in her underwear) sitting on a bed with Billy (in his boxers). He then has to go and puts on his pants and thus it's somewhat suggested that they had sex or at least fooled around.
  • Peeking through a partially cracked open door, Julie sees a nude woman approach Billy (we see the side of her bare butt but most of the rest is blocked by him) and then climb on top of him (he's clothed) where we then see several glimpses of her bare breasts. Later, as Julie leaves, she sees the two of them asleep in a bed (presumably after having sex).
  • Julie climbs into bed with Pete in a motel and asks if he can just hold her. He does, and there are some slight suggestions the next morning that they may have done something, but that can't be confirmed either way.
  • Billy returns to Julie and tells her that he got them a room. The next morning, we see her in her underwear and a tank-top sort of top (that shows some cleavage) in this room, but she tells Pete that she didn't "do him."
  • Howard makes Linc dance with him and says, "I'm not a faggot, I just like to dance."
  • Howard smokes a cigar a few times, while various minor or miscellaneous characters smoke in different scenes.
  • With nowhere else to go, Pete goes to visit his wealthy parents. They don't let him inside and his father asks what he wants and then laughs at the notion of him being a cop. Pete then leaves, but discovers that his mother did give him some money along with a fresh set of clothes.
  • The troubled, criminal adolescents and how they worked hard to do the right thing and prove themselves reliable and trustworthy.
  • Whether the police would really use troubled, criminal kids as undercover cops.
  • Julie jumps onto the back of a cop who's harassing a young woman, while another cop knocks down Linc.
  • A cop punches a woman in the face.
  • Catching Pete between his girlfriend's legs in a bar hallway, a man rushes up and smashes Pete into a wall. Pete then punches him in the face, and this man then head-butts Pete. Pete then kicks this man in the crotch and then punches him and the two then wrestle across the floor until Pete is kicked out of the bar.
  • For the above, Julie slaps Pete on the back of his head.
  • A car crashes into Linc's car (that Pete is driving).
  • A bad guy grabs a driver and throws them from their car to the street as he takes their car. This car then smashes into another car, ripping off its door.
  • A bad guy throws a trash can that hits Linc as the latter chases the former. Linc eventually jumps on this guy and knocks him to the ground.
  • The trio hears some gunshots and then find a man who's been shot to death.
  • Pete crashes a car into the back of another car.
  • We hear the sounds of a silencer-equipped gun and then that of a body hitting the floor of a camper. The assailant then comes out, catches a glimpse of another bad guy and shoots him dead (with blood splattering onto Pete who's standing nearby).
  • Julie drinks liquor straight from the bottle, pours the rest into Billy's car and then ignites it, causing the car to catch on fire and then explode.
  • Some bad guys kick in Linc's door and open fire on him. He throws his body through a glass window/door and escapes with them continuing to shoot at him outside.
  • In anger, Julie punches a mirror and ends up cutting her hand.
  • Some bad guys threaten to shoot some dirty cops.
  • A bad guy fires his shotgun at a car driven by Pete that then crashes into a warehouse. The cops and the bad guys then get into a gun battle where several men are shot (and wounded or killed). A man nearly shoots Pete, but Linc knocks him to the ground and Pete then hits that man in the head with a rifle butt. Julie then kicks a man in the leg and repeatedly hits him with the suitcase he was carrying.

  • Reviewed March 22, 1999 / Posted on March 26, 1999

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